LARIMER COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – A lot of planning went into keeping the animals that make their home at a wolf sanctuary in a remote area of Rist Canyon in Larimer County safe from the High Park Fire.
The Wolf sanctuary knew it would be tough to evacuate 30 wild animals so they built underground bunkers. They showed CBS4 some of the video that proved the fire dens worked and 17 wolves are safe because of the structures.
Over the weekend the flames were only a few miles away as the High Park Fire began to blow up. Volunteers at Wolf started tranquilizing 13 of the animals and taking them to safety.
“We went first for the animals that didn’t have dens and worked backwards from there. Unfortunately we ran out of time before we could get all the animals out,” said primary animal caretaker Michelle Proulx.
“Last year when we had the Crystal Mountain Fire, we started developing the idea for fire dens. They’re basically concrete structures we have buried into the mountain side to allow the animals to get out of the flames and smoke in the event we were unable to evacuate them for a fire.”
For the first few days of the week no one knew if the man-made dens worked until an employee was allowed back into the sanctuary.
“As we look up this fence line we see scorched trees and scorched ground on the left. Untouched ground to the right,” said Proulx.
One building on the sanctuary grounds was destroyed by fire but the wolf habitat was left standing. The fire had burned right up to the enclosure and left the wolves unharmed.
“And a wolf, happy and healthy,” said Proulx.
For the wolves that didn’t have a den, they’re in a smaller kennel at a volunteer’s house. Now the sanctuary is trying to figure out what to do next.
“It would be ideal to not have to go back to a fire disaster area to keep caring for the animals. The tricky part is finding good locations for them to go,” said Proulx.
The 17 wolf dogs remain in Rist Canyon in part because of the difficulty of tracking them down and putting them in kennels. Many of the wolves had to be shot with tranquilizer darts to subdue them so they could be relocated.